Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0411 Neoregelia 'Fireball' hybrids.
by Derek Butcher April 2011

Neoregelia ‘Fireball’ hybrids by D Butcher in Bromeletter 31(4):13. 1993(4)
Last but not least, when at Margaret Paterson's place (Gympie, Qld) I saw what I thought to be a variegated Neoregelia 'Fireball' and thus N. 'Ladd’s Choice' but this was called N. 'Firewheel' which too, had come from Allan Ladd. Let us go back a few years. Allan Ladd was a hybridist who sought perfection but was not ruthless enough with his culling. From all known facts all the original plants called 'Fireball' or 'Red of Rio' were the same clone. 'Fireball' coming into Australia via Nat de Leon and 'Red of Rio' coming from his friend Ralph Davis. Allan Ladd's aim was to get lots of N. 'Fireball' quickly but they were sterile, so he was in a quandary. BUT not for long because he used pollen from N. 'Fireball' on to N. compacta and produced plants halfway between the two. He then took pollen from this hybrid to N. 'Fireball' and produced viable seed. The resultant seedlings looked like N. 'Fireball' and acted like different clones. The "Fireball" could be pseudo ‘Fireball’ with a genetic makeup of 1/3 N. compacta or totally ‘Fireball’ because the pollen of the hybrid may only have acted as a catalyst. Whatever the situation, we now seem to have N. ‘Fireball’ that can be grown by seed thanks to Allan Ladd's work over just a few years.

The N. compacta x N. 'Fireball' hybrids did escape and as far as I am aware, three forms are in existence, 'Firenymph' (violet red), 'Fire Pixie' (orange red), and 'Firesprite' (burnished red). He was also working towards a variegated N. 'Fireball' but even if you grow thousands from seed it is only the odd chance you might get a variegation. There ARE quicker ways, so he experimented with the already variegated neoregelias, namely the supposed N. carolinae (its synonym meyendorffii) and various other cultivar names. Some do produce progeny which are variegated but there is one called N. meyendorffii variegata originating from Gulz in Germany, which when used as MUM consistently produces a high proportion of variegated plants. Needless to say, this clone is in great demand by hybridists and has been used by Bob Larnach in his "Aussie Dream" collection.

Anyway, Allan Ladd did crossings using N. 'Fireball' as father. By 1990 he was producing consistent variegated short-stolon "Fireball" look-a-likes. Concurrently he was working on extending the stolons when he left the nursery business in 1990. It was at that time that he left stock with Olwen Ferris and she and I agreed there seems to be two distinct forms and the name of ‘Ladd’s Choice’ for the variegated form and ‘Ladd’s Extra Choice’ for the albomarginate came into being. As far as I know, Olwen is still growing-on these plants. However, despite previous phone calls with Allan I found that mother was supposedly N. carolinae 'Perfecta'. There is no way to check this but selfset seeds should produce a high proportion of variegations if in fact mother was Gulz's clone. But I could only record in my check list what was on the label.

So it would appear there are variegated plants called ‘Fireball’ around, some with short stolons and some long, but please don't ask me which is which, although I would prefer to call them all "Ladd’s Choice". Perhaps this goes to show that even the most erudite of hybridisers must keep written records.
As far as I am aware there is no true variegated N. 'Fireball' in existence for the simple reason that it was (is?) self sterile and it is very rare indeed that a plant will mutate non-sexually.

Confused? Well, Elton Leme tells me that N. 'Fireball' has been found again recently, only this time in the wild. I have been pleading with him to give it a botanical name so that it can be truly said: "If it is a species it has a botanical latinised name, but a common or fancy name if a hybrid or cultivar".

March 2011.
Ross Little tells me that a variegated plant with a look-alike appearance of a ‘Fireball’ on long stolons has been lurking in the Newcastle area (which was where Allan Ladd had his nursery) since the 1980’s, loosely called ‘Fireball’ variegated. Ross wants to correct this anomaly by calling the Newcastle clone ‘Fallan’ ( combining the ‘F ’ from Fireball and ‘Allan’.). This means that Australians growing a variegated ‘Fireball’ should re-evaluate their plant. If it has its origins in Australia then it is very likely they are growing ‘Fallan’. Things are a bit more complicated if it came in from the USA where the chances of it being a hybrid are high especially with the hybrids that Skotak created. The only other possibility is mutation from tissue culture but nothing has been reported of such a happening.

Updated 21/04/11